Libraries Put Touch Screen Technology into the Hands of Patrons

With a county-wide population of less than 300,000 people, you might not expect Howard County, Maryland, to have one of the most modern and up-to-date public libraries in the US. And despite having less than 66,000 citizens in the town of Ellicott City, the town’s Charles E. Miller Branch & Historical Center—the newest and largest family member of the Howard County Library System—is one of the most state-of-the-art public facilities in operation.

The facility features 100 web-enabled computers, nine study rooms, a 9,000 square foot vegetative roof, more than seventy solar panels to power the building, and over 5,000 square feet of classroom space, much of it divided by technological function and age appropriateness.

And while libraries around the world have begun integrating simple touch screen technology for things like search kiosks and self-checkouts, what really sets the facility apart is its touchscreen entryway, which invites patrons to begin their library journey from the moment they walk in the door.

“We incorporate touch-screen technology into all three pillars of our curriculum,” explained Christie P. Lassen, Director of Public Relations for the Howard County (Maryland) Library System. “Under Self-Directed Education, customers benefit from the touch screens in the Miller Branch lobby to learn more about the Gold LEED and environmental features of the building. Under the Research Assistance & Instruction pillar, we use touch-screen technology to teach our iPad, Nook, Kindle, and other tablet classes, as well as in our HiTech STEM education initiative for teens. Under our Instructive & Enlightening Experiences pillar, we use touch-screen technology for event registration and audience interaction.”

Other libraries around the world such as the National Library of Uzbekistan and Limburg Provincial Library in Belgium, offer international newspaper solutions like PressReader on the large touch screens to provide an enhanced reading experience to the library patron.

In a similar vein, the Dallas Public Library in Dallas, Texas, has introduced a variety of touch screen opportunities in its new Children’s Center, such as the Discovery Wall in its Kahn Pavilion. The fourteen-by-fourteen foot flat screen wall allows children to interact with people around the world, take virtual field trips, and more. This is in addition to the touch screen-enabled early learning computers and iPads that are set up throughout the children’s library, pre-installed with early learning and educational games and software.

Why the targeted push to introduce touch screen technology at such an early age?

“The touch-screens are very intuitive and therefore easy for the youngest child to use,” Lydia Gamble, Head of Children’s Services at Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library, explained in an article for the Knight Foundation blog. “Children are using them from a very young age to learn to read and play and explore.” Gamble went on to explain that touch screen technology has also been a major instructional tool for special needs patrons.

But it’s not only children’s or public libraries that are introducing touch screen capabilities to their patrons. Facilities such as the Milner Library on the campus of Illinois State Library have installed Digital Walls, which are powered by remote connectivity to a computer. In the case of Milner, the Digital Wall is three separate seventy-inch screens, with the middle screen being fully interactive by touch and the outer two screens serving as oversized viewing monitors for classroom use and presentations.

Libraries around the country have been plagued for a long time with budget cuts, crumbling buildings, and low patron turn out. Features like interactive technology, digital literacy classes, high-value digital products like movie and music streaming, digital newspaper and magazine catalogues  and a renewed sense of community activity are the things  will keep libraries relevant to 21st century patrons.

To learn more about digital newspaper service for your library, visit

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